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Deputies frustrated at Ministerial no show for climate statements

December 7th, 2018

Deputies and climate experts left disheartened and frustrated by Ministerial no-show during important Oireachtas session on climate change.

Yesterday afternoon, the Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton TD and junior Ministers from department such as housing, agriculture and transport, presented findings from the Annual Transition Statement as mandated under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015.

Section 14 of the Act states that Ministers must provide an oral report to both the Dail and the Seanad on progress with climate change mitigation and adaptation policy measures taken up by their departments over the past year.

Following the completion of their statements, all Ministers of State left the Dail chambers, with only Mr Bruton remaining for comments and questions from deputies.

‘Can’t be bothered’

Catherine Martin of the Green Party said that it is clear by the fact that senior Ministers “cannot even be bothered to turn up” that they have a “complete lack of interest” in the issue.

She said that it sometimes feels like her eight-year-old daughter has “more interest in, and shows more climate change action,” than some of the Ministers.

“It is sadly becoming ever more difficult for even the most ardent optimists among us to believe that this Government has any intention of sincerely tackling climate change,” she said.

Dr Cara Augustenborg, an environmental policy fellow at University College Dublin, said that she shared Deputy Martin’s “distress”, adding that both of their eight-year-old daughters have more interest in climate action than any Minister.

Watching the proceedings online, Dr Augustenborg said that it was “disheartening” to see elected representatives failing to approach climate change at the scale required “to achieve the greatest technological transition our country has made since the Industrial Revolution”.

“We need a Minister for Climate Smart Agriculture; a Minister for Sustainable Transport; a Minister for Renewable Energy; and a Minister for Future-Proof Homes,” she told The Green News.

“Instead,” she said, we have a “Minister for Livestock Intensification; a Minister for Cars and Roads; a Minister for Oil and Gas; and a Minister for Cheaply Built Housing”.

“We need a Government with the guts to create revolutionary change, but what we saw in the Dail yesterday was just a handful of men who want to keep chatting while the world cooks.”

Protesters from Stop Climate Chaos Coalition outside Leinster House in Dublin Photo: PHOTOCALL IRELAND

Optics were ‘atrocious’

Labour deputy Sean Sherlock said that the whole process was “disconcerting”, with Minister of State after Minister of State “rolling in here… going through the motions” of giving a five-minute statement, and “then walking out again”.

He said that the “optics” of the session were “atrocious” in terms of how the public will look at the Oireachtas and its record on climate change.

“The Act prescribes that details on emissions, inventories and projections should be published. We did not hear from the Minister or Ministers of State clearly defined projections as to how they proposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

While welcoming the positive moves from Mr Bruton since taking up the Ministerial hot seat in November, Fianna Fail’s Timmy Dooley was less impressed with the lack of other Ministerial representation.

“It says a lot about what other Ministers see as their responsibility in terms of their Departments when they cannot show respect for the issue, let alone the House, by being present,” he said. “The real failure of a joined-up Government approach is evident here.”

Joke and a farce

Senators were also heavily critical of the Government’s delivery of the Transition Statement in the Seanad on Tuesday evening, labelling the session as a “joke” and a “farce”.

Following completion of their statements, all Ministers except for Mr Bruton left the Seanad Chamber. Mr Bruton then left halfway through the short debate to be replaced by the Minister of State for Financial Services, Michael D’Arcy TD.

Senator Kevin Humphreys, who was heavily involved in the drafting of the Climate Act, said that he was “extremely angry” as he had “fought tooth and nail” to ensure that Ministers would be answerable to both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Senator Victor Boyhan said that he was “disappointed” that the Ministers did not stay around to listen to the Senators and that “it says something about the importance of this issue” for the Government.

Senator Michael McDowell said that it was “wrong that we are being treated in this way,” adding that the approach from the Ministers was “approaching farce”.

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On Wednesday morning during Order of Business proceedings, Mr Boyhan raised the issue of the “charade” that took place the previous evening.

“There is a statutory obligation on Ministers to present their plans to the House and while they walked in, they actually ran out,” he said.

He asked that all relevant Ministers and Ministers of State are invited back to the Seanad at a later date “so that we can hold them to account”.

Mr Humphreys supported the request made by Mr Boyhan, adding that the House was treated with “contempt” during the session.

The Ministers “clearly failed in their statutory duty”, he said, as they “ran up and spoke for five minutes and then shot out of the place”.

“There was supposed to be interaction and discussion on targets,” he said.

Fine Gael Senator, and deputy leader of the Seanad, Catherine Noone said that she will propose to Mr Bruton that there is a “lengthy debate on climate change in January” with a full question-and-answer session with the Minister.

Mr Humphreys said that he did not want to oppose the Order of Business but that it needed to be stipulated that each Ministecomesme back in and “engage in a proper debate” as outlined under the Act. “That is the only approach that is acceptable to this House,” he said.

Ms Noone said that she will push for a meeting of the party leaders in the Seanad next week to discuss a proposal for all Ministers to appear before the Seanad in January.

“I do not think anyone in here is trying to have a bad debate on climate change. It was not anyone’s intention. We tried something. It did not work. We can try a different approach,” she concluded.

About the Author

Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London

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